Croquet: A Gentleman’s Sport?


George Gershwin, an early American musical genius, transformed public opinion on a style of music that was up until that time found mainly in such “unrepeatable” places as bars and speak-easies. The uniquely American sounds of early jazz received a broad new audience with the advent of Gershwin’s phenomenal hit orchestration, Rhapsody in Blue. Almost single-handedly he brought a “tavern sound” of ragtime to the mainstream public and can now be found in high-brow music collections.

Like pre-Gershwin jazz, Croquet [] in its early days kept some unruly company. In the 1890’s Croquet at the Boston Common, one of the United State’s oldest public parks, gathered gambling, drinking and licentious crowds. Boston clergymen decried this filthy behavior, which tainted Croquet’s image as a public sport.

Croquet in the United States began as a watered-down version of the courtlier British Commonwealth 6-wicket Croquet. This posh sport was and is still played among the Brits on neatly cut greens similar to those found on golf courses. Heavier wooden mallets and balls are necessary to obtain high accuracy. Intense skill and strategy were aspects of 6-wicket Croquet that the US version did not contain at first. Garden Croquet, as it is known (among other aliases), has remained popular in the US since its introduction over a hundred years ago. US players though, considered it more of a light hearted game than a sport and thus failed to maintain the high status of the English 6-wicket.

It was not until the late 1970’s that the United States began to capture on a widespread basis the original essence of Croquet. Finally it had regained it standing and elegance as a refined sport through a bit of effort by Jack Osborn in 1977. Despite its small beginnings, Osborn’s United States Croquet Association has grown to include nearly 10,000 croquet players playing across the US and Canada on over 600 well-groomed lawns. While Croquet the garden game still enjoys a large following in the U.S., there is also now room for players who are passionate about the more competitive type of croquet that includes deep skill and focus.

Both versions of the game can be purchased and participated in by those interested in this British construction. The milder form of Croquet is great for family reunions, company parties, birthday parties and other get-togethers. The classy 6-wicket Croquet is typically played in clubs where membership fees can pay to maintain the manicured greens. With well documented rules for both versions one can easily learn how to play Croquet at any level, although it may be preferable for beginners to start with a more basic set of rules. A simpler version of the game called Golf Croquet can be easily learned and game time can be as short as 30 minutes. Domestic and international rules apply to club and tournament play and slightly differ from one another.

Croquet has truly transformed into a gentlemen’s, and for that matter, a lady’s sport, requiring physical skills similar to those found in billiards and golf, yet the strategic mind of a chess player. George Gershwin would be proud to see the progress of Croquet in America and perhaps even respect the mainstream attention that it has received, I’m sure he was a croquet enthusiast.

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